Marriage in the Luo Community

 A few weeks ago I attended one of the many Luo traditional marriage ceremonies for my cousin who is soon to be married. The event was called ‘Ayie’ which translates to “I agree”. In this particular ceremony, the family of the man approaches the family of the girl and get’s the mother of the girl to agree to release her daughter to the family of the man.

Traditionally this is the ceremony that seals the marriage and allows the man and woman to live together. In modern times it is just part of a several visits that culminate to a church wedding. In the traditional setting, the Ayie ceremony was supposed to be the first time that the man meets the family of the woman.

In the modern case it wasn’t quite the case. My cousin’s finance had already met my uncle and aunt and declared his wish to marry my cousin previously. He was therefore no stranger to the family.

During my cousin’s Ayie, my uncle made it a point to introduce the main friends and family to my cousin. This included her mother’s nuclear family, her father’s nuclear family, her neighbours and several friends who have been part of the family for a long time.

It seemed like the event was tailored towards letting the husband-to-be understand that the girls came from somewhere and had a network of people who watched her grow, cared about her and would come to her rescue in the event that something went wrong.

In Luo tradition, any attempt for the man to meet the woman’s parents before Ayie would be frowned upon and even fined as they were considered unofficial and untoward.

During the Ayie ceremony, the brined is supposed to cook for the groom and exhibit to the groom’s family, the type of food that would be cooked in the new home. The idea is that the mother of the groom would be able to have some kind of confidence about her son having a healthy eating diet.

During the Ayie, the Luo’s go all out and serve all kinds of dishes including local delicacies and relatively modern dishes. Basically, the man’s family should leave satisfied that the wife-to-be can make good food for her husband.

I am yet to learn about the other traditions among the Luo about marriage but I am eagerly waiting. I know that there is a second visit, where bride price will be paid. I also know that no one ever pays the bride price up front, there is always a left over a mount that is paid over the course of a marriage.

I also know that Luos tend to brag and show off during these ceremonies. Therefore it is not common for parents to serve ‘caviar’ at Ayie just to show up the husband’s family, or for the fiancée to fly in with a chopper jus to show up the wife’s family.


We are a complicated people; the story unravels…



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Marisol Plard-Narváez’s 12 Vecinas (12 Neighbors) (2016)


“12 Vecinas (12 Neighbors) is the most recent project by Puerto Rican artist Marisol Plard-Narváez (b. 1966, Puerto Rico), it consists of a three hundred and sixty-degree view, twelve channel video installation showcasing the testimonies and anecdotal accounts of life in the San Juan district of La Perla by a dozen residents. Eleven females and one gay male are the protagonists of a storytelling round-robin where each narrates recent events and different struggles in their personal lives —with economic hardship, exclusionary cultural and economic policies, and in cases even drug addiction. Each person is chillingly forthcoming, and each speaks from a different screen, making us shift our gaze in all directions as we move to match the source of the sound of each of their voices with the corresponding moving image. Their stories are all real, and they are raw.

“The video installation is set up inside the small house Plard lives in La Perla, where she has invited the public to come and spend time by the rocky Atlantic shore, with her neighbors who casually stroll over when public comes to see the presentation, and with her. The total duration of the video experience is short of thirty-three minutes.

“La Perla is a historically marginalized community that lies along the northern city wall of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, protruding out to sea about 650 yards (600 m) along the coast immediately east of the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, and north of Calle Norzagaray. It is a community that rose around San Juan’s old slaughterhouse district, which by Spanish law had to be kept outside of the city’s massive protective walls. During old colonial times, the poor, rejected by the wealthy living inside the walls, built a shantytown near and around the slaughterhouse, as the island nation’s economy grew and San Juan became the seat of municipal, state, and since the 1898 Invasion, US federal power. This spinoff community grew to become a tightly knit, self-policing enclave, with its businesses, improvised electrical and water infrastructure, and independent cultural activity. Aged, shoddy structures, torn down by hurricanes and other tropical weather phenomena, have over the decades been replaced by a colorful cement and asphalt maze, where today hundreds of humble abodes exist amalgamated and connected by labyrinthine stairwells and trails…..”

Read it all: 12 Vecinas (12 Neighbors): A recent installation and social practice work by artist Marisol Plard-Narváez (2016) – Cranium Corporation

Filed under: Black Life x Ephemera, Latinegr@s | Afrxlatinxs Tagged: art, latinegrxs, puerto rico, radical media, social justice

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Facilitating Positive Development Impacts of Diaspora Engagement in Health


Facilitating Positive Development Impacts of Diaspora Engagement in Health

From: DfAD and Mrs Chibwe Henry

Delivered on: 12th September 2014 (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered)

Location: Zambia House, 2 Palace Gate, London

History: Published 13th September 2014

Part of: DfAD Health


DfAD CEO and Founder Chibwe Henry’s speech at Harnessing the Diaspora Health Resource after 50 years of Independence: Diaspora Initiative for Zambian Health Event. Event Objective: To explore resources of the current Zambian Health Diaspora in the UK to consider how to contribute to healthcare in Zambia.


Chibwe Henry, DfAD Founder and CEOIntroduction

Good evening everyone. I am very excited to be part of this event, which is geared to add traction to the Zambian Health Diaspora’s efforts of contributing to national development. So thank you very much to the organisers for having invited me to be part of this occasion.

Diaspora for African Development (DfAD)

As the programme states, I am the founder and CEO of Diaspora for African Development (DfAD), an organisation originally known as Zambian Diaspora Development Network (ZDDN).

DfAD is a Zambian Diaspora-led non-profit organisation based here in the United Kingdom. It is run by a team of 12 volunteers who also either study or work full time in other jobs. DfAD aims to contribute to Africa’s sustainable and social economic development through harnessing the potential of the African Diaspora, with a focus on Zambia and the Southern Africa region.

We operate within the perimeters of our four core programmes; Agriculture, Education, Enterprise and Health. In addition, we use diaspora engagement, as I am doing here this evening, to harness the skills required to contribute to development in the programmes and engage in policy influencing activities in an attempt to create the enabling environment that will allow us to make that diaspora contribution more effectively.

That’s DfAD in a nutshell.

Diaspora and Migrants for Development

According to the United Nations 2013 Data Source, there are 232 million international migrants around the world, making up 3.3 percent of the world’s population. This number constitutes the worlds 5th largest country, behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia.

Over the past 10 years the value of migrant populations, with regards to development efforts in their countries of origin, has been increasing. In a number of countries, such as the Philippines, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia and Nigeria; policies, strategies, projects and programmes have been undertaken to enable migrant populations to better contribute to development efforts back home.

Zambian Diaspora for Development

More often than not, the term ‘Diaspora’ brings up negative connotations in Zambia and many other African countries. However, recognised as the Sixth Sector of Africa, the African Diaspora’s significant role in contributing to Africa’s social and economic development is beginning to gather momentum.  As a consequence, the Zambian Diaspora themselves are now acknowledging their own development potential and therefore starting to organise more formally in order to contribute effectively on the ground.

Examples of that effort are DfAD and the Zambian Health Diaspora here this evening.

Engaging Civil Society in Improving Public Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) is clear on the significance of engaging Civil Society in improving public health, and I quote:

‘Civil society actors have become more visible, active and influential within health and health systems. Understanding their role, the factors influencing them and the health outcomes they produce is important to anyone wishing to improve public health.’

Subsequently, for Zambia to effectively harness its Health Diaspora, the Zambian Government, international and national organisations need to do much more to understand their role and to enable the facilitation of Positive Development Impacts of Diaspora Engagement in Health. So I commend the Government for supporting this initiative.

As for civil society itself, besides the donation of an ambulance here and paracetamol there, they need to fulfill a key development role in advancing Health in Zambia, which should include skills and knowledge transfers. In addition, they need to establish a coherent connection between the Zambian Health diaspora here in the UK and Zambia, that goes beyond the usual ‘development aid’ paradigm and addresses more structural issues that affect health.

Working in Collaboration and Partnership

DfAD is very happy to contribute to these efforts through our work as members of ZUKHWA (Zambia UK Health Workerforce Alliance). For example, with support from Diaspora Volunteering Alliance (DVA), we are currently developing a diaspora volunteering programme, which will focus on transferring skills and knowledge via webinars. This is an ideal platform for the Zambian Health Diaspora to collaborate on.

Working in collaboration and partnership is key if we are to effectively harness the resources that the Zambian Health Diaspora present.

Most of DfAD’s own success has been due to facilitated partnerships and collaborations. A recent example of this is our February 2014 Lusaka Roundtable event themed, Zambia at 50 years: Engaging the Diaspora in Inclusive Development, which produced DfAD’s Jubilee contribution, the DfAD 2014 Report. The Lusaka Roundtable event was made possible by Clarissa Azkoul, UK Chief of Mission for International Organization for Migration (IOM), who facilitated DfAD’s collaboration with the IOM Zambia office.

Thank you Clarissa (co-panelist at the Zambian Diaspora Health event), it was much appreciated.

We are also currently Supporting Transplant Links on their Zambia Kidney Transplant Project in trying to get it off the ground. Transplant Links is a UK registered charitable organisation, run by volunteer doctors, with the primary objective of working with colleagues and improving medical skills to save lives through ethical kidney transplantation

It is vital that, as Zambian Diaspora engaging in Health here in the UK, we work together by partnering and collaboration on projects that have similar synergies. I speak from DfAD’s initial adverse experience of trying to engage with some of the diaspora health-worker-led groupings in various diaspora communities. The tensions between non-health diaspora engaging in health and health workers can be retrogressive to all our efforts.

Moving forward then, as non-health diaspora engaging in health and health workers, there is a need for an open dialogue between us to address this significant communication gap, which threatens to derail any attempts at progressive dialogue.

We can all contribute to bridging this gap by creating opportunities that enable cohesive Zambian Health Diaspora development contributions, such as this event today, which has been facilitated by ZUKHWA and the Zambian Government. An event like this ensures the prevention of silo working in the Zambian Health Diaspora, which results in multiple fragmented and ineffective diaspora contributions.

Reflecting on Zambia’s 50th Independence Anniversary

Furthermore, Zambia’s 50th Independence Anniversary prevails on us who are here this evening to critically reflect on the asymmetrical relationship that has existed for the past 50 years, between the resources that the Zambian Health Diaspora in the UK signify and their utilisation in advancing healthcare in Zambia.

It also offers us the opportunity to reflect on how we would like to advance beyond this point.

Reaffirming Zambian Health Diaspora’s Commitment

As I stated at the beginning of my presentation, this event today has built up the traction that was needed to get the Zambian Health Diaspora reaffirmed in their commitment to contributing to advancing Health in Zambia. Imagine what they would be able to achieve with this additional support from the Zambian Government, other Zambian Diasporans, international and national organisations. It is insurmountable to say the least.

Prioritising Formulation of a Diaspora Engagement Framework for Zambia

In conclusion, as a Diaspora and development advocate, my final remarks therefore are that, the Zambian Government needs to prioritise the formulation of a Diaspora Engagement Framework for Zambia. This, ultimately, is what will enable the wider Facilitation of Positive Development Impacts of Diaspora Engagement in Health.

The formal inclusion of the Zambian Diaspora as partners in national development has the potential to exponentially increase Zambia’s chances of attaining the post-2015 goals.

Let Zambia effectively harness the potential of its Health diaspora for development.

Many thanks




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Why I am speaking about mysticism

Laolu Senbanjo Afromysterics series

Laolu Senbanjo Afromysterics series

For hundreds of years westerners have sought for answers to the big questions of life in the mystical world. From Plato to St. Teresa of Avila to Kierkegaard, mysticism, defined as “a constellation of distinctive practices, discourses, texts, institutions, traditions, and experiences aimed at human transformation” has marked philosophical life in the west.

Today, however, western culture is more likely to seek answers in (often market-driven) type of mysticism – mindfulness centres, yoga studios, meditation courses, nature walks, Kabbalah retreats, Wicca festivals, Paulo Coelho fan clubs, online courses on new age spirituality etc. It’s obvious in science fiction and popular culture too, where mythical creatures compete to explain human quandaries – love, death, morale, virtue. Some of Europe’s revered characters, Carl Jung, John Yeats, Dag Hammarsköld and Simone Weil to name a few, were not only influenced by the deep symbolism of mysticism, they themselves were mystics.

Yet despite the search to understand the mystical world, which undeniably imbues western society, westerners rarely see themselves as pursuing meaning in anything profoundly symbolical. By contrast, deep mysticism is associated with primitive rather than modern society.

I believe that the discord between the perception westerners have of themselves and what western society truly is, is part of a bigger problem, namely to position the west as civilised and superior and other parts of the world as primitive and inferior, the need to distinguish the west from the east (or global south nowadays).

But in truth, western culture  itself is a portmanteau of rational, austere thinking on one hand, and a pursuit of mystery on the other. The only difference between the west and many other parts of the world is a denial of this fact.

This is why I find it increasingly important to speak about mystical and mysterious experiences. To insist that the mystical and the philosophical are, or at least should be, part of the same language.

In a podcast for Things Unseen, a podcast channel for people that are interested in spiritual matters, I spoke about some of my personal experiences with mysticism. In the 5 minute podcast I also speak about Fela Kuti and Frida Kahlo.

Things Unseen podcasts have been led by current and former BBC presenters, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, as well as the first black woman to be Speakers Chaplain in the House of Commons, Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin. The series I contribute to below is The A-Z of Things Unseen.
Listen to my podcast on the Things Unseen website or by clicking below.

 Image is from Laolu Senbanjo Afromysterics series

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